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EU agency backtracks on Skype crime claims

Eurojust, the EU's judicial co-ordination agency, has significantly revised a statement in which it claimed Skype was being used by organised crime for undetectable communications
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

Eurojust, an EU agency that co-ordinates judicial co-operation across member states, has significally altered a statement in which it said criminals were using Skype to avoid detection by the authorities.

One week ago, Eurojust announced it planned to "play a key role in the co-ordination and co-operation of the investigations on the use of internet telephony systems [VoIP], such as Skype". The agency said its role would be to smooth out the technical and judicial obstacles to the interception of internet telephony systems, taking into account the various data-protection rules and civil rights. Eurojust also said it had become involved at the request of the Italian anti-Mafia directorate.

"Skype's encryption system is a secret which the company refuses to share with the authorities," Eurojust's statement of last Friday read. "Investigators have become increasingly reliant on wiretaps in recent years. Customs and tax police in Milan have highlighted the Skype issue. They overheard a suspected cocaine trafficker telling an accomplice to switch to Skype in order to get details of a 2kg drug consignment."

Skype reacted strongly to that statement at the time, saying it remained "interested in working with Eurojust despite the fact that they chose not to contact us before issuing this inaccurate report".

On Wednesday, Eurojust issued an update to its original statement, which was entitled Eurojust coordinates internet telephony investigations. The new statement, entitled "Eurojust will be requested to co-ordinate internet telephony investigations", makes it clear that the anti-Mafia directorate's request for judicial co-ordination has not yet been made formally.

The internet telephony-tapping probe is expected to be officially introduced at Eurojust "in the coming weeks or months", a spokesperson for the agency told ZDNet UK on Friday.

In addition, the revised statement made it clear for the first time that the initial meetings between Eurojust and the Italian judicial authorities had taken place in September 2006, and that Skype itself had been present at those discussions.

"Representatives from the company Skype SA were invited and present at this meeting," the revised statement reads. "There was a positive message from the Skype representatives during the meeting, showing their commitment to cooperate with the law-enforcement authorities in the fight against serious, cross-border organised crime."

In the new statement, references to Skype's alleged refusal to share details of its encryption system have been excised.

Skype has welcomed the revision of the statement. "We are pleased that Eurojust has clarified their previous statement and has recognised our commitment to cooperate with law-enforcement authorities, which Skype does as much as is legally and technically possible," it said in a statement on Thursday. "Skype looks forward to working more with Eurojust in the future."

Speaking to ZDNet UK, Eurojust's spokesperson said the original statement had not targeted Skype in particular. "We didn't only speak about Skype; we used Skype as the most known internet telephony company," the spokesperson said. "There are others — Truphone, instant messaging and so on."

Asked about the original statement's specific references to Skype and its encryption systems, the spokesperson said: "The first information [was included] as background based on information we got from a police officer in Milan."

ZDNet UK asked whether the removal of the references to Skype meant they had been incorrect, but Eurojust's spokesperson refused to comment.

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